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January 21, 2011

What are “balanced connections” and the benefits of balanced cable?

Filed under: AV question — Tags: , , , — Alan @ 3:22 pm

Q. Some expensive A/V preamp-processors and power amplifiers offer “balanced connections.” And the new Axiom EP600 and EP500 subs also have them. What are they, and are “unbalanced” connections inferior to balanced? What would I gain in performance using balanced cable? – J.C.

Balanced Connector

Balanced Connector

Used almost universally in the world of recording studios and professional broadcasters, balanced cable use a three-wire cable fitted with very secure and solid “XLR” connectors (sometimes called “Cannon” connectors). The three-wire balanced configuration is composed of an outer shield surrounding two out-of-phase inner wires that carry the positive and negative portions of the signal. This enables running very long cables–hundreds of feet if necessary– between amplifiers and preamps or between microphones and a mixing console without picking up hum or interference and without significant signal loss.

Since long cable runs aren’t required by most consumer audio/video installations, the simpler 2-wire “unbalanced” design and connectors are used—an outer shield that carries the ground (negative) portion of the signal plus a single inner positive (“hot”) wire. This design is much less costly and, so long as cable runs remain relatively short, offers ample shielding and resistance to interference and signal loss. From a performance standpoint, an unbalanced amplifier or receiver is capable of excellent performance but may be more vulnerable to RF (radio frequency) interference as well as AC hum problems from “ground loops” and component interconnection. To the electronics engineer, a “balanced” system of inter-component connection is a technically more elegant design but considerably more expensive.

To find out more about balanced cable and other connections click here.

Alan Lofft was, for 13 years, Editor in Chief of Sound & Vision, Canada’s largest and most respected audio/video magazine. He edited Sound & Vision (Canada) until 1996, when he moved from Toronto to New York to become Senior Editor at Audio magazine.
Lofft has been writing about hi-fi and video professionally for over 20 years, ever since his first syndicated newspaper column, “Sound Advice”, began appearing weekly in The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper. In the late 1970s, he became a contributing editor, columnist, and equipment reviewer at AudioScene Canada, the leading national consumer electronics magazine at the time. Find out more about Alan in his bio.

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